Built in 1924, the historic Balboa Theatre was an elegant vaudeville and movie palace in the heart of downtown San Diego. At the time it was a state-of-the-art building that included six storefronts along Fourth Avenue, with 34 offices on the floors above. After a 1934 remodeling, the theatre was reopened as Teatro Balboa, featuring contemporary films from Mexico City and presenting Latin stars to San Diego's increasingly diverse audience. During World War II, the theatre's office space was used by the US Navy. These offices were reconfigured into bachelor quarters for young men waiting to ship out. After the war, the remodeled spaces became single-occupancy housing.
In 1959, the Russo family of San Diego acquired the building and saved it from potential demolition. They operated it as a action movie house until the City of San Diego purchased it in 1986. Ten years later, the Balboa Theatre Foundation nominated the Theatre to the National Register of Historic Places to save both the interior and exterior of this community asset.
The Balboa Theatre had been closed for over twenty years. After numerous efforts to privately renovate and reopen the Theatre, the commitment was made in 2002 to retain the historic Balboa Theatre as a public asset with the City's Redevelopment Agency funding its renovation and restoration and reopening the Theatre as a community performing arts center to be managed and operated by San Diego Theatres. Since that commitment in October 2002, Centre City Development Corporation has proceeded with the rehabilitation of the Theatre with a goal to achieve its ambitious mission:
"To transform the Balboa Theatre into a contemporary performing arts venue treasured by patrons, producers, presenters, performers, and San Diego's regional community while contributing to redevelopment and the advancement of a vital downtown theatre district. Celebrating its rich history, the Balboa Theatre will be restored in accordance with local application of The Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation of Historic Buildings. Visitors will be inspired by its beauty, comfort, flexibility, and functionality. The Balboa Theatre's transformation will result in a well equipped, fully functioning venue to effectively and efficiently house diverse programs of local, national and international performances and presentations, and community, corporate and convention gatherings. For performing arts and formal gatherings, the historic Balboa Theatre will once again become a venue of preference."
The City of San Diego's Redevelopment Agency has invested over $26 million into the Balboa Theatre's renovation and restoration. This has included extensive seismic retro-fit to meet current requirements, complete replacement of all infrastructure systems including electrical, plumbing, HVAC, and life safety, ADA accommodations, state-of-the-industry theatrical lighting, audio, rigging and production requirements, and audience accommodations including new seating. The project has embraced and restored the historic finishes and appearance of the Balboa Theatre while incorporating current audience and production expectations to ensure its use for generations to come.
The historic Balboa Theatre reopenned in January 2008 with much acclaim from audiences and performers. Additionally, it has received numerous special awards and recognitions on a local, state, and national professional organizations.